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CTN Investigates: are cruise travellers getting younger?

CTN Investigates, young cruise travellers

Once regarded as exclusively for the elderly, cruises are suddenly attracting a younger clientele. Dave Monk examines why more millennial and gen Z travellers are opting for holidays at sea

Newlywed, overfed and nearly dead – a cute rhyme that 20 or so years ago succinctly encapsulated the cliché cruise traveller.

While it didn’t paint the full picture, features like formal nights, fixed dinner seatings and eighties discos did little to shake the stigma that if you weren’t recently retired, you were unlikely to be seen enjoying a cruise holiday.

Of course, there are some lines who successfully cater to mature audiences, but the collective effort to diversify cruising’s clientele has led to a considerable drop in the average age of passengers.

Social media has undoubtedly helped, with high-speed internet allowing passengers, journalists and bloggers to broadcast the modern sailing experience in real time – you only need to look at how Royal Caribbean’s round-the-world voyage ‘blew up’ on TikTok to see how younger audiences are engaging with the sector.

Cruise content creator Emma Le Teace launched her website Cruising Isn’t Just For Old People, now renamed, in 2016. Now aged 30, she says cruise passengers definitely seem to be getting younger.

“It appears to be a combination of new and exciting ships, attracting people who may never have considered a cruise, and also the increase in multi-generational cruising.

“Families and younger people seem to be realising what great value for money cruising can be. I took a four-day cruise with Marella over a bank holiday weekend, so most of the passengers only had to take one day off work. That is a great way for people who are new to cruise to test out how they feel about being at sea.”

Latest CLIA figures confirm Le Teace’s observations. The average age of a cruise passenger worldwide has fallen to 46 (in Britain it’s 55). Globally, 36 per cent of travellers are under 40 while the ratio of over-60s has fallen to 17 per cent.

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More than a quarter of passengers are new to cruise, while solo travellers now make up nearly 10 per cent of the market. Cruises are also becoming more family oriented, with a third of passengers sailing with at least two generations.

Royal Caribbean is among a collection of lines that have been successful in getting younger passengers on board, introducing features like ice rinks, skydiving simulators and dodgem cars.

“The average age of our UK guests is 42 – seven years lower than in 2019” says Ben Bouldin, the line’s VP for Europe, Middle East & Africa. “We design our fleet to attract the family audience to ensure they can have a perfect holiday, both collectively and individually.”

More than a quarter of passengers are new to cruise, while solo travellers now make up nearly 10 per cent of the market.

Royal Caribbean’s Utopia of the Seas, which launches in July, is the line’s first Oasis-class ship to offer short Caribbean getaways, which are designed to attract more millennial and Gen Z travellers.

The fun isn’t limited to the onboard experience, either, with Royal being one of many lines that own their own Balearic-style private islands with adults-only beaches complete with swim-up bars, private cabanas and DJ booths.

“Our other new ship, Icon of the Seas, is also ideal for young travellers, with adrenaline-pumping rides and the first neighbourhood dedicated to families,” Bouldin adds.

Differing tastes

Princess Cruises has also seen the age of cruisers fall in the last two years, with fly-Med and Caribbean trips being the most popular with younger travellers. High-speed wi-fi and wearable tech that lets you order food and drinks wherever your are onboard are among the draws, says Eithne Williamson, VP for UK & Europe.

“Princess has been paving the way to attract a younger, more international audience by offering more experiences tailored to their preferences and lifestyles. Our mobile app enables our guests to tailor their cruise experience from the palm of their hand.”

At MSC Cruises, the VP of international sales, Antonio Paradiso, says young people are attracted by the range of destinations and experiences they can enjoy in a single sailing.

Young cruisers, Emma Le Teace
Cruise content creator Emma Le Teace says new and exciting ships are attracting younger travellers

MSC Virtuosa remains a firm favourite for British passengers embarking at Southampton, while MSC World Europa has the longest dry slide at sea – a definite hit with millennials and Gen Z passengers.”

Paradiso is also the UK & Ireland MD of Explora Journeys, a luxury brand attracting solos and LGBTQ+ passengers through bespoke cocktail events and soirees, with staff receiving dedicated trained to promote equality and inclusiveness onboard.

Dave Mills, Iglu Cruises’ chief commercial officer, is seeing an increase in both younger and older cruisers. He says: “Although our average age of traveller is in the mid-50s, we are welcoming more under-18s on board than ever before.

“But let’s not forget the increasing confidence to travel among the over-80s. In 2023 we hosted three guests who were over 100.”

Smaller lines are seeing the effect too. At Greek specialists Celestyal, the VP of business development UK, Europe & Australia, Janet Parton, says: “Our shorter three and four-night cruises lend themselves to a younger audience. Spending longer in port – full evenings in Mykonos and Santorini and overnight in Dubai, for example – as well as no sea days is an attractive proposition for millennials.”

She adds that cruise lines need to ensure their marketing materials reflect the widening demographics and that they dispel any misconceptions through training and educating both travel agents and customers.

Shifting perceptions

Promoting cruising as a rewarding and cost‑effective way for young, adventurous travellers to see the world might seem like a simple argument for lines and agents to get across, but perceptions rarely change overnight, and well‑founded attempts to capture this market have failed in the past.

Take U by Uniworld, for example. Set up in 2018, it planned to attract cruisers aged between 21 and 45 with two dedicated river boats offering activities such as silent discos and karaoke nights. This year, Uniworld dropped the project to concentrate on its luxury products.

Time-poor and worn down by an intensifying cost of living crisis, millennial and gen Z travellers are more discerning than ever when it comes to deciding what they spend their money. Helping them understand that a cruise holiday offers much more than what they see in the holiday brochures could be the key to piquing their interest.

If you speak to millennials, a lot of them will say ‘I never considered a cruise… agents can really make an impact by talking about their own experiences

“If you speak to millennials, a lot of them will say ‘I never considered a cruise,’ says Holly Simmonds, cruise product manager at Not Just Travel. “This is where agents can really make an impact by talking about their own experiences, whether it’s the trips, the entertainment, the cost, food, technology or the facilities.”

So what are millennials looking for? “The perfect Instagram shot, a great band in the evening, a spa package or perhaps a random destination they’d never thought of visiting but will recommend to everyone,” Simmonds explains.

Le Teace thinks cruise lines should think beyond glossy TV adverts that merely show off their latest ships and speak to younger travellers directly.

“They often leave the audience with a lot of basic questions like ‘What is included? Where can I eat? What about drinks?’ Focusing more on the value aspect of cruising and just how easy it makes travel would be a great way to encourage younger people to give it a try.”

CTN Investigates
Multi-generational cruising is on the rise thanks to seasoned sailors enticing friends and families on board

She still comes across a lot of misconceptions, though, with people thinking cruising is either overly formal or all about the Caribbean and lots of drunk people partying. “Most cruise lines fall somewhere in between,” Le Teace says. “Matching the right person to the right cruise line is an important part of getting younger people on board.”

It’s undeniable that the frumpy days of cruising are over; even the lines that more commonly appeal to older passengers like Viking and Silversea are encouraging their guests to embrace a more intrepid and energetic way of travel. And with user-generated content and word of mouth such an influential source of travel inspiration, more younger travellers could be heading to cruise ships soon.

“I expect we will see an increase in multi-generational cruising as current cruise fans introduce younger members of the family,” Le Teace says. “Solo cruisingis also booming, which may have to do with how easy it is to make friends pre-cruise through online forums.”

Three itineraries for younger cruisers

Royal Caribbean’s three-night Bahamas & Perfect Day cruise on Utopia of the Seas leaves Orlando on 13 September 2024 and calls at Nassau and CocoCay, from £288pp.

Princess Cruises’ seven-day Mediterranean with France & Italy sailing on Sun Princess leaves Barcelona on 5 April 2025 and calls at Gibraltar, Genoa, La Spezia and Civitavecchia, from £849pp.

MSC Cruises’ five-night Northern Europe voyage
on MSC Virtuosa leaves Southampton on 20 October 2024 and calls at Amsterdam, Cork and Falmouth, from £429pp.

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